How a One-Person Legal Team Succeeds through Teamwork

General counsel Jeffrey Holland’s focus on teamwork helps keep Discovery Land Company running strong

Jeffrey Holland, Discovery Land Company

Growing up in Napa, California, Jeffrey Holland always dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But when he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, he wasn’t certain that he had the endurance to undertake another three years of law school. So, turning to another lifelong dream for guidance, he traveled to Pamplona, Spain, to run with the bulls.

“It was a rebirth moment for me. I was a little hesitant about going to law school, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do the impossible if I set my mind to it,” recalls Holland, who as a high school junior was at one time ranked second in the state of  California in the eight hundred meters category. “As I ran, the bulls passed me, and I dodged my way unscathed through the crowded streets all the way to the bull ring. I guess my track-and-field days helped keep me upright, but finishing was the goal, and I accomplished it. After that, I knew I could survive law school and pursue my dream.”

Following law school, Holland cut his teeth on the West Coast working in litigation during a nationwide wave of construction defect lawsuits in the early 2000s, before going in-house as vice president and general counsel for a Canadian-based builder and developer of apartments, condominiums, senior housing communities, and hotels. Eventually, Holland gathered up his extensive experience and transitioned into his current role as general counsel for Discovery Land Company. Based in Scottsdale, Arizona, the company is a full-service developer and operator of more than twenty private luxury communities and resorts across North America and the Caribbean.

As the company’s one-man, in-house legal function, Holland says he finds himself still drawing heavily from his early experiences in track-and-field, which taught him the invaluable fundamentals of teamwork and leadership. “My experience as an intercollegiate athlete has taught me life lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom, including hard work, dedication, teamwork, and how to handle setbacks and defeat,” he says. “In fact, understanding that the team is always bigger than the individual is the single most important leadership skill I have learned from track-and-field, and it’s the skill I carry with me today.”

Because the complex process of realizing pristine resort communities involves many different divisions and several different expertise coming together in order to translate a design concept into reality, Holland says Discovery Land Company’s formula for success is all about teamwork.

“Growth and expanding our unique development brand into new markets are key goals for Discovery Land Company,” Holland says. “In order to accomplish these goals, we have specialized teams of professionals—both inside and outside of the company—who help us advance our business plan.”

This team-centric formula allows the company to quickly and efficiently evaluate opportunities and cohere business plans and management structures. Ultimately, that leads to Discovery Land Company’s sanctuary-like resort communities. “It’s a delicate corporate interchange that we do, like passing a baton in a relay race,” Holland says.

When that baton is passed to him, his leg of the race involves coordinating and directing the legal affairs of domestic and international projects, as well as drafting contracts, managing litigation, handling negotiations, and generally providing any necessary guidance to other divisions of the company.

“I make certain that we have the correct legal teams in play to assist with the specific or unique jurisdictional requirements in the location of the planned resort, as well as overseeing and assisting with the project documentation,” he says.

That team mind-set is not only appreciated internally at Discovery Land Company, but also with the company’s outside counsel, who are instrumental in developments and projects. “Working with Jeff and Discovery Land Company as outside counsel truly gives you a sense of being on the team,” says Robert Adams, senior partner at Graham Thompson. “His personal and pragmatic approach to problem-solving is refreshing and makes working with him a pleasure.”

Since joining the team at Discovery Land Company, Holland has also sought to centralize the company’s litigation management. He also takes an active role in managing the company’s interaction with outside counsel. That’s an area that Holland says is vital, given the company’s international, multijurisdictional business model.

“We rely heavily on outside experts, and we need to,” Holland explains. “When we’re in the Bahamas or Mexico—or any foreign jurisdiction—we also rely on local and national counsel to guide us. Of course, during our internal due diligence aspect of acquisition or development, we determine what the land is zoned for or whether we need special use permits or need to hire land use attorneys to have our plans approved.”

The company is often successful in getting those plans approved, says Holland. But, just as in track-and-field, sometimes Holland and his team run into hurdles. “Most of those hurdles are environmental in nature,” he says. “That’s because, a lot of times, we seek out opportunities in the best and most prestigious locations in the world, which often involve developing near oceans, lakes, mountains, deserts, and historic areas.”

To navigate these choppy waters, Holland says the teams at Discovery Land Company work to establish relationships with the local community, as well as with the best acquisition professionals, engineers, and land development lawyers. “Development is riddled with challenges in terms of regulation, land use restrictions, zoning, or other
encumbrances and/or impediments,” Holland says.

Holland adds that the company takes every precaution necessary not to harm the environment when developing properties. “It all comes down to science,” he says. “We go out and do the necessary noise studies, traffic studies, environmental studies, and water quality tests. We do everything we can, and then if for some reason we have to make a change, then we modify our business plans accordingly.”

Today, Discovery Land Company is one of the most recognizable private luxury brands in the world, and that, Holland says, is largely due to the company’s savvy teamwork, talented ownership, and developing a high-quality product that brings people together.

“The key ingredients in all of our developments are world-class amenities and our private clubs. These amenities, of course, enhance our development, but also bring owners together which, in turn, creates a strong and thriving membership community,” he says. “Without a team effort, we wouldn’t have the twenty-plus properties we operate around the world today, and we certainly wouldn’t have the membership or success that we have seen.”

Photos: Gillian Fry